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Double trouble for bubble teams

Iowa bench watch in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Indianapolis. Northwestern won 67-62. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — Making an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night only served to give members of the Iowa basketball team and their fans more time to contemplate their postseason fate.

The Hawkeyes went down to their sixth defeat in the past seven games Thursday as they were eliminated in the opening round with a 67-62 loss to 11th-seeded Northwestern.

They will now wait to see if they are included in the NCAA Tournament bracket that is unveiled at 5 p.m. Sunday. Despite the late-season tailspin, most experts still expect Iowa (20-12, 9-9 in the Big Ten) to be included in the NCAA field for the first time since 2006.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had them projected as a No. 8 seed going into the Big Ten Tournament and dropped them to a No. 10 following Thursday’s loss.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has continually refused to speculate on his team’s tournament worthiness, telling reporters “I’m not Joe Lunardi."

For the moment, he and his players are only concerned with reversing the momentum that has seen them topple from apparent Final Four contender to possible bubble team in the course of a few weeks.

“I think we should take a step back maybe for a day or two, maybe rest our legs and get refocused," center Gabe Olaseni said in a disconsolate locker room following Thursday’s loss. “It’s a great opportunity. Our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament. We still feel we’re a tournament team."

McCaffery didn’t sound as though he was in a step-back sort of mood.

“There’s no magic formula," he said in his postgame news conference. “You just have to keep working. What we've said over these last two weeks is you work your way out of things like this. You don't talk your way out of it, you don't fake your way out of it, you work your way out of it, and you stay positive.

“We'll stay positive as coaches, but we'll stay positive with one another. You can't start pointing fingers and blaming each other."

It’s hard to identify exactly who or what is to blame for what has happened to the Hawkeyes.

They again allowed an opponent to shoot a very high percentage from the field, which has been a common thread in all six late-season losses, but McCaffery said it’s not quite that simple.

“I really think when you're losing, it's never one thing," he said. “It's easy to point at the defense … Offensively, we're struggling. We shot 25 percent from three, we shot 25 percent in the second half, we shot 32 percent for the game …

“We'll watch film, we'll break it down, we'll do drills, we'll work individually with individual players. And like I say, we'll stay positive and address all of those areas."